FIRST RIDE: 2024 KAWASAKI MULE PRO 1000 SERIES
Three new Mules with more power, more travel, same dependability - By Jeff Henson
Kawasaki’s Mule has come a long way since its 454cc twin-cylinder workhorse introduction in 1988. Recognized as a go-to vehicle for ranchers and industrial worksites where heavy lifting is mandatory, the Mule expanded into various trims that included 3-cylinder gas engines, diesel options, and room for up to six occupants. In 2014, the Mule PRO-FXT was introduced with an 812cc straight-three engine (still available in the 2023 model) and more forgiving suspension, which made it a little more trail friendly while retaining all its practical functions.
The best quality of the Kawasaki Mule is the machine’s longevity, that is, if you’re a Mule customer. Kawasaki tells us that the toughest customer to sell a Mule to is someone who already owns one; They’re just built to last. Kawasaki dealership mechanics claim they’ve seen Mules go well over 20,000 miles without issue, and plenty of 30-year-old Mules are still out there completing tough chores. So, once again, Kawasaki is upgrading its capability with the release of the 2024 Mule PRO-FX 1000, PRO-FXR 1000, and the six-passenger PRO-FXT 1000.
A lot! These three machines are fitted with the Kawasaki-built 999cc parallel-twin engine, loosely based on the same mill in the pure-sport KRX 1000, improving torque, acceleration, and top speed. The Mule version is fed via a single 38mm throttle body for smoother operation, and the engine air intake has been relocated to pull cleaner air. One of our favorite improvements is the simplification of general maintenance, and a few improvements have been made to keep heat out of the cab. The front hood, grill, and fenders also received updated styling.
Suspension travel and ground clearance have increased substantially without reducing payload capacity. In the past, a terminal block could be purchased as an add-on to simplify adding electronic accessories, but it’s standard equipment on these models. The Mule Pro-FX 1000 HD Edition, FXT Ranch Edition, and FXT Platinum Ranch Edition come with self-leveling rear shocks to aid in transporting heavy loads while retaining maximum ground clearance. Finally, the front end received a styling update, and Kawasaki improved personal storage and added extra drink holders for front and rear passengers.
HOW MUCH MORE POWER?
During our testing, we noted that acceleration is much stronger in the low- to mid-range from idle to 50 mph. Top speed has also increased by 30 percent and is governed to 65mph. While speed isn’t a big deal to those who use the mule strictly for work, it does get you from barn to pasture much quicker. The power increase also makes near effortless work out of the Mule’s half-ton cargo capacity and ability to tow 2000 pounds. The new Mule PRO-1000 series still includes a CVT with low-range, selectable 2WD/4WD with diff-lock and a turf-friendly dual-mode rear differential.
You would think that increasing displacement and horsepower would also increase noise, but if anything, it’s slightly quieter thanks to a new 8-liter exhaust silencer. The exhaust is also redesigned to flow heat away from the engine to help keep the running temperature cooler. Likewise, Kawasaki also installed a heat shield behind the forward-facing radiator that deflects heat downward and away from the cab. With temperatures pushing into the upper 90s during our ride test, we never noticed any temperature increase from the floor.
MORE POWER MEANS MORE MAINTENANCE… RIGHT?
No. The 999cc engine is more accessible to service than the 812cc. We already mentioned that the air intake was relocated to draw cleaner air. The air filter is also double the size. Both changes increased the air filter service life from 50 to 200 hours. The radiator also has a higher capacity to keep the larger engine cool.
Access to general maintenance areas is also greatly improved. Do-it-yourselfers will appreciate how Kawasaki consolidated the location of the air filter box, battery, oil dipstick, and oil filter – all accessible from the side of the vehicle without having to get on your knees or having to twist your knuckles through hoses and hot engine components. The oil dipstick has been extended for direct access without reaching inside the engine compartment. The air filter box has a tool-less access lid in the same spot. But the best part is the automotive-style twist-on oil filter at the top of the engine. It’s mounted so the bottom of the filter points upward for less mess during removal. The engine design incorporates a catch tray for what little oil might drain out, quickly wiped away with a rag. The best part is that you can check your air filter condition and oil level in seconds before every ride.
MORE SUSPENSION TRAVEL – IS IT WIDER, TOO?
The overall width is still 64 inches, but Kawasaki substantially increased wheel travel and ground clearance. A-arms at the rear are beefed up with boxed lower A-arms, and the shocks received new A-arm mounting locations for a longer stroke. Wheel travel increased from 8.7 inches to 11 inches up front and 8.5 inches to 10.1 inches at the rear. This raised ground clearance from 10.2 inches to 11.6 inches. All four shocks are preload adjustable so that you can adjust the height for more ground clearance. With preload maxed, the 6-seat Pro-FXT ground clearance increases to 12.6 inches, the base Pro-FX climbs to 11.9 inches, and the Pro-FXR bumps even higher to 13.2 inches. Even more impressive is how much flex this Mule’s suspension is capable of when crossing uneven obstacles. When a wheel drops into a ditch, the chassis remains relatively level.
SELF-LEVELING REAR SUSPENSION
Not every Mule has it, but the Mule PRO-FX 1000, PRO-FXT 1000 Ranch Edition and top-of-the-line PRO-FXT 1000 Platinum Edition are the first Kawasaki UTVs to receive “self-leveling rear suspension.” The system is all mechanical and self-contained in the ZF Sachs shocks, built with Nivomat self-leveling components. There are no electronics or external pumps involved. The rear suspension will sag with the added weight when loading the cargo bed to capacity. As the vehicle is set in motion, the shocks mechanically pump internal oil to higher pressure, raising the ride height and ground clearance back to standard without giving up shock damping. Transporting full-capacity loads is completed with a much higher level of stability and driver confidence.
MULE PRO-FXT 1000 TRANS CAB
It’s not new, but the Trans Cab deserves mention as it’s one of our favorite features on the Mule PRO-FXT models. With the cab in a 6-seat configuration, the cargo bed capacity is maxed at 350 pounds. In less than a minute, the cab can be transformed for more cargo capacity by raising the rear seat bottom, unlocking a lever on each side of the cargo bed, and then pushing the headache rack forward and locking it. Hence, the bed extends ahead of the rear wheels. This brings the cargo box length from 22 inches to just under 43 inches, increasing the load capacity to 1000 pounds.
Mule PRO-FXT and FX 1000 models have Duro Frontier 26-inch radials on 12-inch rims. The FXR model has 27-inch Duro Power Grip II tires with a 6-ply rating. Considering the additional power and suspension upgrades, mounting a larger tire is doable.
When you examine the load capacity of these machines, which is the same as a half-ton pickup, you’d expect the suspension to be so beefed up that it would ride like a brick when not loaded. But, just like the 812cc Mule, the ride is always plush whether loaded or not.
The turning radius is better than expected in the 3-seat and extended 6-seat Pro-FXT models. It’s short for wiggling through dense trees but stands out even more when using implements that require repeated U-turns, such as dragging an arena rake. We tried it with a rake, and the Mule turns as quick and precise as a sub-compact tractor.
Kawasaki’s innovative electric power steering system also comes into play, providing more assistance at slower speeds. As the pace picks up, the EPS motor backs off for a more connected trail feel while doubling as a steering damper against blows from rocks and tree roots.
HOW DOES THE PRO 1000 SERIES COMPARE?
The Mule Pro-1000 series pricing begins at $16,599 for the PRO-FXR 1000 3-seater and $17,699 for the LE version. The Mule PRO-FX 1000 HD with 20 square-foot cargo bed runs $18,299. 6-seat variations begin with the Mule PRO-FXT 1000 LE at $20,299 ($100 extra in TrueTimber Strata camo), $21,899 for the PRO-FXT 1000 LE Ranch Edition with a winch and self-leveling rear suspension, and $23,399 for the top-of-the-line PRO-FXT 1000 Platinum Ranch Edition with every bell and whistle.
There are a few other UTVs out there that match the Mule for cargo bed capacity and some that top it for towing capacity.
Honda claims the Pioneer 1000-5 with “QuickFlip seating,” (starting at $18,899) and Pioneer 1000-6 Deluxe Crew ($21,899) will haul 1000 pounds and tow 2500 pounds.
Can-Am’s Defender DPS 3-seater (starts at $13,899) and Can-Am MAX DPS 6-seater ($16,299) will also carry 1,000 pounds of cargo and tow 2,500 pounds.
The EPS-equipped Polaris Ranger 1000 models tow 500 pounds more (starting at $16,499 for a 3-seater or $20,299 for a Ranger XP 3-seater), as does the 6-seat Ranger Crew 1000 Premium 6-seater ($19,699) and Ranger Crew XP 1000 Premium 6-seater ($22,099).
The all-new Polaris Ranger 1500 is bigger in every way, with a 1500-pound box capacity and claimed 3500-pound towing capacity. It’s also much bigger in price when you consider the top-of-the-line 6-seat Mule PRO-FXT 1000 Platinum Ranch Edition can be had for $23,399. The Ranger HD 1500 6-seat models begin at $32,499.
BUILT TO LAST WITH THE BEST WARRANTY
When it comes to warranty, the Mule beats the competition in spades. Kawasaki stands behind every Mule with a 3-year factory warranty. That’s three times longer than any other major powersport competitor’s factory warranty. Kawasaki often refers to the Mule as its “bread and butter” vehicle. We’ve heard rumors that Mule sales even outpace Kawasaki motorcycle sales on occasion. When the economy is in the tank, there’s still heavy lifting to be done. And when your income depends on a hard-working vehicle, reliability always tops the requirement list. The Kawasaki Mule is built to endure, and now it performs better than ever.